County attorney addresses game rooms

Although the county’s existing ordinance concerning game rooms does a “pretty good” job, Ector County Attorney Lee McClendon told commissioners Tuesday he has several ideas on how to improve it.


For example, McClendon said he is in favor of keeping them 1,500 feet from neighborhoods, instead of the current 300 feet, and 1,500 feet from each other. He’d also like to require them to have an exterior window in the front and ban them from having coverings or tint on the windows to help law enforcement agencies in monitoring their activities.


In addition, McClendon said he’d also like to restrict the businesses from having more than 50 games operating at any one time and limiting their hours to 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 8 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday.


Last week, the Odessa City Council instructed City Attorney Natasha Brooks to send a letter to County Judge Debi Hays, McClendon and all of the county commissioners asking them for their input on proposed game room ordinances and giving them a Feb. 15 deadline.


The council wants to join forces with commissioners to help address the proliferation of game rooms throughout the county and the corresponding problems some of them are causing local law enforcement.


On Tuesday McClendon said he agrees with Mayor Javier Joven, who is advocating for more stringent requirements. However, McClendon said he wanted to clear up some misconceptions.


Gambling and promoting gambling are still illegal under Texas law and law enforcement officers do have the authority to make arrests, McClendon said.


City and county ordinances are meant to make sure those who own and operate game rooms are following the law; they’re to help officers be watchdogs, he said.


When Commissioner Mike Gardner suggested raising application fees expressly to hire more law enforcement officers, McClendon said the total amount raised overall probably wouldn’t be sufficient.


The county’s 12-page ordinance was passed in 2018, he said. It includes a lengthy application process and requires the game room operators to not only have video surveillance, but to hand it over to law enforcement officers without requiring a warrant.


The county attorney said he’d be reluctant to limit the total number of game rooms in the county because state laws don’t expressly say counties have that right.


Existing game owners might be required to come into line with certain aspects of the newly amended ordinance, but not others, McClendon said.


For example, they could be required to remove window tint and coverings, but they likely couldn’t be forced to move, he said.


In the near future McClendon said he’ll be speaking with Odessa City Attorney Natasha Brooks about the city’s proposed ordinance and recommending a date for a public hearing on the county’s proposed changes.


Although the commissioners were expected to hear recommendations for a firm to help the county with ARPA funds, the matter was not discussed.


Following the meeting, Hays and Commissioner Greg Simmons said McClendon advised the commissioners over the weekend not to discuss the matter at Tuesday’s meeting because it wasn’t properly listed on the county’s agenda.


Agenda Item 13 merely stated: “To consider, discuss, and take any necessary action to discuss any and all issues related to COVID-19.” It did not mention contracts and it should have, Simmons said.


The item will be placed on the court’s next meeting agenda, they said.


The county commissioners voted 5-0 in September to hire a firm to vet the applications of organizations seeking American Rescue Plan Act money to ensure they qualify under ARPA’s 400-pages of guidelines and to then audit those funds.


Hays has said without the firm the county risks the possibility of spending money that doesn’t qualify under ARPA’s 400-pages of guidelines and taxpayers having to pay it back.


Hiring a firm would be less expensive than hiring additional county staff to perform the tasks, she said.